The Harbor Gateway is the newish name for what used to be called the LA City strip: the strip of land connecting the city to its harbor in San Pedro.
And what does this picture have to do with that? Well, this 1908 shot (from the Los Angeles Library's photo collection) shows speedsters awaiting the starting gun at the original Ascot Park, one of the notable showplaces in that strip. Most of the drivers are identified; that's Ralph Hamlin in the Franklin Model H with "Greyhound" printed on the hood. Ascot Park hosted horse races and boxing bouts too.
Basically, the strip runs between Vermont and Figueroa, separating Gardena from Compton, then jumps a few blocks west to run between Western and Normandie, separating Torrance from Carson. The Los Angeles Times "Mapping LA" project shows it here. Or, if you don't mind waiting for the full-color pdf, try this one from the City Planning Commission.
The section between Del Amo and Torrance Blvds. has its own separate history highlighted by gang violence; the Times' Sam Quinones wrote a first-page feature on the area March 4, 2007, with a lot of the history. Before World War 2, the place was mostly empty fields. Folks who lived there (Quinones gives the whole ethnic breakdown of which groups moved in when) knew and accepted that their cheap real estate meant they were left out of many city services and had to wait longer for police and fire response. Things have improved--because the gang violence grew so bad that the media and mayor got involved a couple of years ago.
But why is that strip of land there in the first place? Well, everyone knows it's so Los Angeles will always have a clear right-of-way to the harbor, right? Like most "everyone knows" items, this was hard to track down.
In Andrew Rolle's book Los Angeles (Golden State Series) I learned that "By 1906, the city's access to the sea had been legally assured by annexation of a strip of land about 20 miles long and a quarter mile wide. This passageway came to be know as "the shoestring corridor"." Aha! Another phrase to google!
With few results. This military history site gives 1909 as the date that the Shoestring Corridor was annexed, mixing it in with the year when Wilmington and San Pedro became part of Los Angeles. A minor misstatement. I'll have to return to that site someday, which describes how naval submarines were stationed on our coast in the early 1900s.
From one article in the Times that referred to the "Shoestring Strip," I did learn that in 1910, the Pacific Electric car took folks from Los Angeles to San Pedro--a distance of 22 miles--in 45 minutes. Nice bit of trivia. In that article, the Shoestring Strip was defined as being 11 miles long, and the recent annexation of San Pedro and Wilmington added another 5 miles.
Proquest (the only way to get at those old LA Times stories) responded to the term "Shoestring Strip" though. Which leads back to Ascot Park. The Shoestring Strip was annexed in 1906--by vote, on November 12 of that year. The city of Los Angeles population voted overwhelmingly in favor of annexation, but it was the approval of the "country district"--the actual inhabitants of the strip, many of them ranchers--that was really necessary. In one district (Green Meadows, which was mostly in the strip) the measure was approved by only ten votes: 213 to 203. Those votes were recounted several times, because the seal had been broken.
All sorts of reports of irregularities surfaced. The word had gotten out that if annexation passed, Ascot Park would close. No more horse racing...no more betting! Gamblers and employees of Ascot Park suddenly showed up to vote, swearing that they lived in the strip. In spite of that, the vote was to annex the strip. Los Angeles was now a seaport!
Ascot Park protested. They filed papers asking the Secretary of State of California to not validate the election. Why? Because once part of the city of Los Angeles, Ascot Park could not have races and betting. A compromise was reached in December 1906 allowing the horse racing (and the betting) to continue through the season, so the track dropped their suit.
I'm sure that's not the end of the story but it will do for now.